Gendered Violence and the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project

By: Alie Hermanutz

Photo credit: Provincial Archives of Alberta

“The bottom line: Alberta’s oil and gas industry and the people who work in it are the best in the world. And we’re not going anywhere, anytime soon.”

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley1

The Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion Project (TMEP) has exacerbated Indigenous-to-settler government tensions in recent years. The proposed expansion encroaches on several First Nations’ unceded territories—including the Secwepemc, Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish, Kwantlen, and Cold Water First Nations—and poses considerable risks to local ecologies. The original Trans Mountain pipeline—completed in 1953—currently transports 300,000 barrels of crude oil daily from Alberta’s Athabasca tar sands to British Columbia’s (B.C.) shorelines.2 If completed, its expansion (TMEP) would add 980 kilometers of new pipeline infrastructure through a process of ‘twinning’, or running a new pipeline along the same route, adjacent to the existing one. This would increase the volume of crude oil transported to 890,000 barrels daily.3 While the former owner of the TMEP, Kinder Morgan Canada Limited, has slowly scaled back production in Canada4, the Trudeau government’s long-term commitment to fossil fuel production in the Alberta tar sands is evidenced by their indirect purchase of TMEP for $4.5-billion in May of 2018.5

There are also adjacent social and political repercussions to the Trudeau government’s commitment to TMEP’s construction and fossil fuel extraction more broadly. Extractive culture in Western Canada furthers gendered violence against Indigenous women and girls through the creation of ‘man camps’. These areas are hyper-masculinized rural work camps situated along pipeline routes—and near other semi-permanent, critical oil and gas infrastructure—that house temporary employees responsible for pipeline construction and operations. It is difficult to document the number of operational camps throughout B.C. at any one time because of their constantly shifting nature but estimates put their number at over 1,800 in Northern B.C. alone.Workers in these camps are subject to problematic social conditioning: the normalization of sexist condescension from older or more senior employees, collective indifference towards mental and physical self-care, and disciplinary modes of control from employers even when employees are off the clock. Research conducted by the Canadian-based Peace Project entitled Gender Based Analysis of Violence Against Women and Girls in Fort St. John outlines how a lack of self-care is embedded into camp culture(s). Health-care is largely inaccessible, due to shift work that keeps employees on the clock up to 18 hours a day. The pronounced barriers to health-care and the hyper-masculine attitudes in the camps — throughout the oil and gas industry — deter men from broaching topics of emotional duress such as depression, anxiety, and isolation. Interviewees cited in Peace Project’s study reported ‘interment’-style conditions at the camps, saying they were “like a prison.” One worker spoke about the “unnatural” length of times they were required to stay indoors during work hours, because “you’re not allowed to go for walks, especially off camp grounds.”7 This medley of indifference and isolation sets the stage for workers to develop habit(at)s that perpetuate violence against others while leaving their own problems unresolved.

Indigeneity, Extractivism, and Gender-Based Violence

Amnesty International defines gender-based violence as: “violence directed against a person because of their gender, gender identity and/or expression, or because of their failure to conform to restrictive gender norms.”8 Gender-based violence manifests against women where “physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty,”9 occurs. The construction of man camps follows a long history of the exploitation, dispossession, and criminalization of Canada’s First Nations which relates directly to the normalization of gendered violence. Of the First Nations territories the TMEP would cross, the Secwepemc First Nation have been, and remain, a vocal and well-organized opponent of the pipeline. The Secwepemc’s involvement with the tar sands began when the Canadian government approved the original Trans Mountain pipeline in 1951. Indigenous nations had no legal mechanism for asserting their sovereignty, addressing land disputes, or engaging in legal claims with the state due to amendments added to the Indian Act in 1927.10 Asserting Indigenous title and (lack of) rights via the courtroom was, at the time, considered by the colonial state to be disobedient. These exertions of legal right by First Nations often resulted in incarceration. Andrew Crosby and Jeffery Monaghan’s work highlights the creation of Indigenous ‘abnormality’ as manifesting through assertions of sovereignty and title rights. This exemplifies the Canadian police state’s construction of crime and criminality “based on self-defined categories and expectations that they hold toward society.”11. This also speaks to myths involving the ‘empty’ or ‘virgin’ lands that prevented Indigenous peoples from organizing against dispossession. The Secwepemc faced this scenario as the TransCanada Corporation, extractivist pioneers that they were, crusaded through Secwepemc lands in 1951.

Pacifying of dissenting First Nation voices is invaluable to extractivist projects in Canada, but those voices are far from passive or pacified. The Secwepemcul’ecw Assembly’s Secwepemc Women’s Warrior Society and the Tiny House Warriors released a declaration against the introduction of Kinder Morgan man camps along the TMEP route. A June 2017 meeting of members of the Secwepemcul’ecw Assembly affirmed themselves as “the rightful Title holders and decision-making authority for Secwepemcul’ecw lands and waters,” and explicitly denied Kinder Morgan the right to build a 518-kilometer segment of TMEP through their lands. The Secwepemc people, especially the Women’s Warrior Society, have an intersectional analysis of extractivism and gender-violence that this analysis follows.

Alberto Acosta defines extractivism as the mode(s) of capitalist accumulation that “removes large quantities of natural resources that are not processed (or processed only to a limited degree), especially for export.”12 Extractivism is not limited to the development or extraction of raw materials for use in commodity production: bodies are themselves extractible in pursuit of colonial goals. ‘Natural resource extraction’ may seem synonymous with extractivism, but the latter is unique because of its historical entanglement with colonialism. Jen Preston writes of racial extractivism as the extraction of bodies from Africa in the trans-Atlantic slave trade remains “the largest extractive project in human history.”13 Nishnaabag author Leanne Simpson echoes these views of bodily extractivism and extends the analysis further, into the realm of cultural extractivism:

Extracting is taking. Actually, extracting is stealing – it is taking without consent, without thought, care or even knowledge of the impacts that extraction has on the other living things in that environment…. extraction of indigenous knowledge, indigenous women, indigenous peoples.”14

These authors trace the origins of this bodily and cultural extractivism to similar historical periods in capitalist development; namely, the colonization of the Americas and Africa. The colonization of Turtle Island15 is, for instance, often mythologized as being within an outdated space/time in many ways. This myth appears when Indigenous peoples reject current modes of capitalist production, and they are considered by settlers as “prehistoric, atavistic, and irrational, inherently out of place in the historical time of modernity.”16 In another way, the period of colonialism is mythologized as belonging to a historical time and not a process that is currently ongoing.17 Patrick Wolfe’s oft-cited quotation concisely contests that myth: “invasion is a structure, not an event.”18 This is to say that colonialism is an ongoing process and was not a specific historical event that has come and gone. This attempt at bookending time and space — to further an imaginary Canadian post-colonial ordering — crops up in reporting on the federal government’s commonly held beliefs. The perpetuation of colonial myths around time/space has a direct relationship to colonial and gendered violence as the agency of women and Indigenous peoples are simultaneously rejected. This sets the stage for the creation of Indigenous women, girls, and land as things to be “discovered, entered, named, inseminated and, above all, owned.”19

Extractivism on Indigenous lands is a continuation of the same mythical eroticization that the original colonizers deployed when they arrived at Turtle Island. Those early colonizers were infatuated with concepts of ‘discovering’ the ‘New World’ and overcoming the “virgin land with the patrimony of scientific mastery and imperial might.”20 The first colonial encounters that European explorers had with Indigenous peoples originated and embedded colonial, gender-based violence throughout the land. Justification of these actions arose from the concept of terra nullius, the belief that “no one owned the land prior to European assertions of sovereignty.”21 This concept has been a fundamental myth for normalizing Canadian colonialism. Author Anne McClintock equates terra nullius with the myth of virginland, where gendered and racial colonization happens simultaneously. She writes that to “be virgin, is to be empty of desire and void of sexual agency, passively awaiting the thrusting, male insemination of history, language and reason.”22 Dispossession of land that is both ‘vacant’ and ‘virgin’ precludes any “claim [to] aboriginal territorial rights”.23

It is impossible to separate violence against land and gender-based violence when thought through the framework of land-based Indigenous knowledge. Violence on the Land, a report done in collaboration by the Women’s Earth Alliance and Native Youth Sexual Health Network, outlines the negative impacts of colonial gendered violence on First Nations’ capacity for self-determination and development of governance structures.24

The destabilization of Indigenous governance systems through normalization of environmental violence, colonial legal maneuvering, and infrastructural development are more by-products of extractivism. Extractive projects throughout Canada crisscross unceded Indigenous lands, with the highest concentration of camps in B.C. and Alberta. The intensification of violence, substance use, and sexual assault in those areas is directly tied to the mass-introduction of transient, isolated workers.

Alberta has one of the highest rates of gendered violence, where “[b]etween 1980-2012, there were 206 Indigenous women and girls murdered in this province alone.”25 And in B.C., one 2017 report by the Firelight Group states that there was a 38 percent increase in reported sexual assaults in Fort St. James, an extractivist hub that TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline, North Montney Mainline pipeline, and the Prince Rupert Gas Transmission pipeline all pass through.26

According to the Secwepemc, Kinder Morgan Canada has applied for a 16-hectare plot to develop as a 1000-worker camp on the Blue River in B.C. in advance of TMEP’s construction.27 If these man camps proliferate as construction along the TMEP route unfolds, the patterns of gender-based violence will spread.

Colonial Hypocrisy and the TMEP Today

This gendered violence is a by-product of the indifference described above, produced because of continued Canadian extractivism in pursuit of its position in the ‘global energy elite’. The state has never taken responsibility for the persistent violence that Indigenous communities face as a social by-product of extractivism — the non-reciprocal and exploitative mode of natural resource, cultural, and bodily extraction based on capitalist growth. Extractivism is entangled with colonialist assertions of capitalist seizure and control. Both resource extractivism and bodily extractivism work to steal Indigenous lands, create toxic and enduring colonial deathscapes28 for future generations, further capitalist growth, entrench hetero-patriarchy, destabilize Indigenous communities, and further the realization of the Canadian state’s imaginary ‘post-colonial order’.

Construction of TMEP has been halted due to an August 30, 2018 ruling by the Canadian Federal Court of Appeal. The court’s ruling from Tsleil-Waututh Nation v. Canada states that the National Energy Board’s environmental assessment was “so flawed that the Governor in Council could not reasonably rely on the Board’s report,” and that “Canada failed to fulfill the duty to consult owed to Indigenous peoples.”29 This ruling shows  internal contradictions and tussling between state authorities as the federal government is made beholden to its own colonial court system. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Trudeau has publicly come out against the “gender impacts” of oil infrastructure development. He is aware of the ‘man camps’ adverse “social impacts because they’re mostly male construction workers,”30 but seems unable to realize that his administration is directly funding the spread of colonial gendered violence. Canada’s reliance on extractivism undermines its commitments to reconciling the damages of colonialism. If the Canadian state wants to be accountable for the violence against Indigenous lands and bodies it has allowed to perpetuate, it must shelve TMEP for good. Further, it must take seriously the recommendations and knowledge of First Nations and Indigenous-led organizations that are contesting further extractivist growth, rather than only performatively promising change.

Alie Hermanutz is a PhD candidate and teaching assistant at York University whose research focuses on the intersections of extractive capitalism, settler colonialism, state surveillance/repression, and social movements. They have spent the last several years within anti-authoritarian, anti-colonial, anarchist, and DIY ecologies and movements.


1 Quoted in Chinta Puxley, “Alberta Premier Rachel Notley says Oilsands ‘Not Going Anywhere Anytime Soon,” Canada’s National Observer, Jan 13, 2017,

2 “Expansion Project,” Trans Mountain Corporation, accessed November 16, 2018,

3 Ibid.

4 John Tilak and David French, “Kinder Morgan Is Looking to Get Out of Canada For as Much as $2.4 Billion,” Global News, Sept 14, 2018,

5 “The US and Canada are Preparing for a New Standing Rock Over the Trans Mountain Tar Sands Pipeline,” The Intercept, July 17, 2018,

6 Clarice Eckford and Jillian Wagg, Gender Based Analysis of Violence Against Women and Girls in Fort St. John, The Peace Project, February 2014,, 24.

7 Clarice Eckford and Jillian Wagg, Gender Based Analysis of Violence, 26.

8 Amnesty International, Out of Sight, Out of Mind; Gender, Indigenous Rights, and Energy Development in Northeast British Columbia, Canada, November 2016,, 3.

9 Ibid., 3.

10 William B. Henderson, “Indian Act,” The Canadian Encyclopedia, October 23, 2018,

11 Crosby and Monaghan, Policing Indigenous Movements, 180.

12 Alberto Acosta, “Extractivism and Neoextractivism: Two Sides of the Same Coin,” in Beyond Development; Alternative Visions from Latin America, edited by the Permanent Working Group on Alternatives to Development, Amsterdam: Transnational Institute, 2013, 62.

13 Jen Preston, “Racial Extractivism and White Settler Colonialism: An Examination of the Canadian Tar Sands Mega-Projects,” Cultural Studies 31, no. 2–3 (May 4, 2017): 353–375, 354.

14 Leanne Simpson, As We Have Always Done; Indigenous Freedom Through Radical Resistance, Minnesota: Minnesota Press, 2017, 75.

15 Turtle Island is an Indigenous name used by peoples in the Algonquian and Iroquoian language groups to describe the geographies that colonial states now prescribe to North America: Canada, the United States, and Mexico.

16 Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather; Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest, (London: Routledge, 1995), 40.

17 See Anna M. Agathangelou, “Queerness as a Speculative Economy and Anti-Blackness as Terror,” International Feminist Journal of Politics, 15, no. 4 (2013): 453-476.

18 Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the Native,” Journal of Genocide Research8, no. 4 (December 2006): 387–409, 388.

19 Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather, 26.

20 Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather, 31.

21Tsilhqot’in Nation v. British Columbia, [2014] 2 S.C.R. 256, 2014 SCC 44 [Tsilhqot’in], [69].

22 Anne McClintock, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest(New York: Routledge, 1995), 30.

23 Ibid.

24 “CHAPTER THREE: The Health of Indigenous Nations,” Women’s Earth Alliance and Native Youth Sexual Health Network, Violence on the Land, 36-46.

25Women’s Earth Alliance and Native Youth Sexual Health Network, Violence on the Land, 31.

26 Kevin Maimann, “Link Between Rural Work Camps and Violence Against Women is Real, Researchers Say,” StarMetro Edmonton, Dec. 4, 2018,, and Brandi Morin, “Pipeline ‘Man Camps’ Loom Over B.C.’s Highway of Tears,” Canada’s National Observer, Sep. 21, 2017,

27 “Women’s Declaration Against Kinder Morgan Man Camps,” Secwepemcul’ecw Assembly, accessed December 6, 2018,

28 See Adam J. Barker, “Deathscapes of Settler Colonialism: The Necro-Settlement of Stoney Creek, Ontario, Canada,” Annals of the American Association of Geographers108, no. 4 (July 4, 2018): 1134–49.

29 Tsleil-Waututh Nation v. Attorney General of Canada (2018), FCA 153 (CA), 7.

30 Kevin Maimann, “Link Between Rural Work Camps and Violence Against Women is Real, Researchers Say,” StarMetro Edmonton, Dec. 4, 2018,

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